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Rockland County celebrates 50th anniversary of hurling field and ancient Irish sport's time-honored tradition

Rockland County celebrates 50th anniversary of hurling field
Rockland County celebrates 50th anniversary of hurling field 03:22

NEW YORK -- This weekend, Rockland County is celebrating the 50th anniversary of a sports field. The story of its creation and what it means to the community is the focus of this week's Snapshot New York with Steve Overmyer. 

The rural field is full of an infections sound: laughing children playing one of the oldest sports in the world. It's called hurling. 

"It's more like ice hockey than anything. Trying to explain it, it's the fastest field sport in the world," said Rockland GAA Hurling Coach Mark Comeford. 

Hurling isn't a sport that's known nationally, but it has taken this community by storm. 

"It's been said hurling is a ferocious ballet on grass. Is that accurate?" Overmyer asked. 

"If you ask the people that play it, they'll say not, it's just one of them things. It's very skilled. They've got a great passion for it," said Paul Levins from Rockland GAA. 

The ball is called a sliotar. It's similar to a baseball, but players must use a flat stick called a hurley to carry and hit it through goal pasts. 

At any age, it's played with spirited speed. 

It's impossible to trace the beginnings of hurling. It actually pre-dates written history in Ireland. It's even the center of some of the most famous Irish myths. 

"There is something special about being able to use sport to connect us to our traditions, to our history," Overmyer said. 

"Definitely our heritage. They were taught by their fathers and their fathers were taught by their fathers. So to be able to pass that down to kids in a facility like this ... that's fantastic as well," Levins said. 

The sport is so important here that 50 years ago locals came together to buy the land and build a field. But one little problem:

"We didn't have the money in our account," Joe McGirl said. "The only way they could secure a loan was if people actually put up collateral. So 20 people put their own private homes up as collateral." 

The founding members believed in the value of the field so much they bet their mortgages on it. 

"We have a great passion tor Gaelic games and indeed our overall culture," said McGirl.

Fundraising in the community has allowed them to pay back the loan and even have enough to allow every child to join for free. For 50 years, children have played here, learning an ancient sport and embracing Irish culture. 

"This field, in a way, is a bridge to Ireland, isn't is?" Overmyer said. 

"It really is. It's something that you're giving back to your kids," Levins said. "They're able to see their grandchildren play and maybe their great grandchildren. There's a lot of history here." 

"You know, the one thing we find about the sports, it's great for the kids for meeting other kids. It's a bonding thing and it's great for socializing here too," said Comeford. 

"What do you hope they get out of it?" Overmyer asked. 

"Friendship. That's the main thing, that they make friends for life," Comeford said. 

"It's fun, because it's so fast. It's a fast sport. It's so fun. And right after sometimes the coaches bring you for ice cream!" some of the kids said. 

"Is there a better sound than giggling, laughing children?" Overmyer asked Levins. 

"Absolutely. There's not doubt about that. It's great. Whatever goes on in your day, busy at work and everything else, the minute you get out of the car here, whatever happened the previous 10 hours is all forgotten about," Levins said. 

"When you can look around here and you see the positive energy that's around here, people just want to climb aboard," McGirl said. "It puts a smile on our face and people that has committed thousands of dollars, and we ask them what do they want in return? And they always say anytime we drive by there and we look in and we see kids playing with smiles on their faces, that's the payment we are getting in return. There's no dollar value you could get. That's all we want." 

Rockland County is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the field with a weekend-long slate of games starting Friday. 

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